Friday, March 30, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Social Network

"I think if your clients want to sit on my shoulders and call themselves tall, they have the right to give it a try - but there's no requirement that I enjoy sitting here listening to people lie. You have part of my attention - you have the minimum amount. The rest of my attention is back at the offices of Facebook, where my colleagues and I are doing things that no one in this room, including and especially your clients, are intellectually or creatively capable of doing."

David Fincher has been on my bad side ever since I saw The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. So, take this review with a grain of salt if you are a David Fincher fan.

The Social Network has all the ingredients of a good movie, and that may be why it fooled so many people into thinking it actually was.  It looks good, its a compelling story that writes itself, the music is solid and not overbearing, and the acting is very good in spite of the script.

Aaron Sorkin wrote The Social Network, and he has a lengthy resume of creating entertaining movies as well as The West Wing. His scripts typically have an easy flow to them and The Social Network is no different. There are some issues, of course. This is not a story that can be adequately told in a two hour movie, The Social Network was two hours, draw your own conclusions.  Usually studios refuse to let movies go over two and a half hours(See Kingdom of Heaven, a travesty of mandated studio edits butchering an all time classic into just a very good movie).  The whole movie felt rushed.

They also threw in some standard thematic tropes that are both cliche and annoying. Mark Zuckerberg is painted as an insufferable ass for nearly the entire movie, but of course, they had to throw in a little human emotion story of him developing as a person to underpin his characters whole saga. And they created a fictional girlfriend who breaks up with him, which prompts him to make Harvard's Hot or Not and opens the door for Zuckerberg to create Facebook. Must we throw in a human emotion story to make the creation of Facebook for palatable? The story sells itself!

 The twins, who sue Zuckerberg, are hilariously entertaining, and are the highlight of the movie. But they seem more charicatures than actual characters. Doing some research, they might actually be this way in real life, so, an addendum to the criticism.  Sean Parker, of Napster fame, comes off as a manipulative loser, but they cast him with Justin Timberlake, a guy almost universally likeable. 

I don't remember the name of the actor, or the character he played, but the original Facebook C.F.O. was the most sympathetic, and relatable character in the film, and the acting was superb.

Some closing thoughts, this movie is worth a viewing, because its a good story.  But what makes it a good story is not what the movie chooses to focus on. It dances around the relevance of facebook and hones in on the human element, or, the human element that they choose to focus on. 

It's a reoccuring theme, the story, isn't THE story.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Random Movie Review: The Answer Man

"I'm just a guy who crawled back to civilization on all fours."

I watched this movie because I think Jeff Daniels is hilarious. Especially when he's angry.

Daniels plays Arlen Faber, a bestselling author of the book, "Me and God", where the premise is that he is asking God questions and relaying his answers.  Arlen lives in relative seclusion because he has learned to despise people over the last twenty years. He spends his time reading self help book and trying to meditate, albeit unsuccessfully. He is, a miserable curmudgeon.

One day, he throws out his back, crawls into the nearest chiropractor(Lauren Graham), and his life begins to change. He befriends her son, and also advice for book with a recently sober bookstore owner.

This is a good movie, is it spectacular? No. Does it stick in your mind as anything life altering? No. But it's worth a viewing, mainly for the moments when you can see Jeff Daniels explode at the Fed Ex guy, a school teacher, and a piano man at a fancy restaurant. The storylines tie together well and you believe the intentions of the characters. Definitely worth a watch.

Monday, March 26, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No. 45: Gladiator

                              "Death smiles at us all, all a man can do, is smile back"

Gladiator is a Ridley Scott film. It's long, it's violent, and claws away at actual meaning unlike most action epics. It's plot, in essence, is similar to that of Braveheart, where a skilled warrior overthrows a government because they murdered his family. Much like the other films from its time, its liberal use of CGI hasn't aged well. But this movie is still damn good. 

Russell Crowe plays Maximus Decimis Meridius, a general in Rome's Northern Army and trusted confidant of the Roman Emperor Marcus Auerilius.  The film begins with an epic battle scene where we figure out two things, the Roman's are clever, and Maximus is a badass who is never rattled and quietly gives ominous orders like, "Unleash hell".  After a swift and easy victory over some angry German tribe, we meet Joaquin Phoenix's insufferable and evil character Commodus, the Emperor's son, who yearns for his time on the thrown.  After Auerilius informs Maximus and Commodus at separate times that Commodus will not be Emperor, and it's Maximus's job to give Rome "back to the people", Commodus kills his father, sentences Maximus to be executed and orders the murder of Maximus's wife and son.  Maximus escapes, gets picked up as a slave/gladiator by the greatest character in the movie, Proximo, and the epic tale of revenge begins. 

Russell Crowe does an excellent job as Maximus.  Joaquin Phoenix is deplorable, despicable and downright creepy as Commodus and the two are perfect foils for each other. There is a fringe love story, that is key to the plot, but not essential to the review.

Gladiator is an epic, its a better movie than Kingdom of Heaven, Scott's other epic he made soon after, but not quite executed as well. Nonetheless, the film captures its setting marvelously and the scenes inside the Coliseum are the highlight of the movie. 

Here are the ratings:

Music: 4/5: Hans Zimmer comes up with an epic and memorable score for an epic and memorable movie.
Cinematography: 4/5: As I said, the CGI hasn't aged well, so the wide shots of Rome now look like a video game, but the scenes in the Coliseum and in the little arena's they fight in all across the desert look fantastic.
Entertainment Value: 8/10:  Very few parts of this movie drag, its tense, its exciting, and even a little bit unpredictable.
Rewatchability: 7/10: This is a movie you can jump in at any time and ride till the end. So many memorable and great scenes really make this flick.
Acting: 7/10: 7? Really? Might have been the one note fringe characters, but Joaquin Phoenix should've warranted a 7 on his own.
Great Scenes: 7/10:  "Am I not merciful!" "Unleash hell" "Are you not entertained?" All great scenes with memorable lines. My favorite scene of the movie is the speech given by Maximus to Commodus after he reveals that he is still alive. One of the greatest in movie history, no hyperbole.
Total: 37/50

Monday, March 12, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No.46: It's A Wonderful Life

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

I saw It's A Wonderful Life many times as a gangly youth, but didn't really get it till I was in college.  This is a wonderful movie with a wonderfully simple theme, is it a little preachy? Yeah, but it works.

The film follows George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, all through his life.  George Bailey had big dreams, he wanted to move out of the small town he lived in, go to college, travel abroad, but his innate selflessness always ended up causing him to stay in town, help his family's business, or help his friends and put his dreams on hold.  He takes over his fathers business, relieving his incompetent, cheerful, but consistently drunk Uncle Billy from the duty and fighting off the evil businessman Mr. Potter(played impeccably by Lionel Barrymore). He skips out on his honeymoon because their is a run on the bank and therefore a run on his Building and Loan company.  The resentment builds in him until Uncle Billy misplaces all of their money from the business. Feeling disillusioned, trapped and desperate, George wishes he never was born and plans to jump off a bridge and commit suicide.

Clarence, an angel trying to earn his wings tries to save him by showing him what life would be like if he never was born. After seeing the demise of his town, and the terrible turns peoples lives had taken because he wasn't there to help, he has an epiphany leading to the famous scene of Jimmy Stewart running through the streets joyously wishing everyone and everything Merry Christmas.

I've heard it argued, in the Ayn Rand sense, that this movie leads people to believe in a life of mediocrity and to not pursue or excel their own goals and ambitions. I would counter that this movie shows the importance and value of doing good deeds and fostering human relationships. 

Here are the ratings.
Music: 3/5: The music isn't spectacular, but not dreadful.
Cinematography: 4/5: Despite its age, shot very well, and I won't hold NBC colorizing it against the actual film.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: Entertaining flick throughout.
Rewatchability Factor: 7/10: Despite the fact that this movie still gets watched a lot around the holidays, more than one viewing a year doesn't seem to happen.
Acting: 9/10: Jimmy Stewart and Lionel Barrymore steal this movie, their clashes and arguments are scenes I've never tired of watching and truly excellent acting.
Great Scenes: 7/10: The final scene gets things a little dusty, and there are a lot of other great scenes. When George says he'll slingshot the moon, when the dance floor opens up into a pool, and one of my favorites, the scenes in the alternate universe bar. Hilarious.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No 47: Rocky 3

"What happened to you is the worst thing that can happen to a fighter, you got domesticated"

  Rocky 3 is the most polished, ridiculously entertaining and unpredictable Rocky sequel made.  It makes this list because of an unparallel soundtrack, a great story, and an actual decent script.

 After Rocky 2 stumbled along for a painful hour and a half, before Rocky defeats Apollo Creed in a thrilling final half hour of the movie, Rocky 3 starts off with a bang with one of the great movie montages ever assembled and never lets up. I don't want to spoil things, but Rocky's whole world comes crashing out after he loses the title to Mike Tyson-errr, Mr. T.  With the help of his former nemesis Apollo Creed, he regains the "eye of the tiger", finds his soul, and regains the title.

The movie tells the story perfectly, Stallone doesn't play Rocky with the same punchy stupidity as in Rocky 2 and it pays off. Stallone used Rocky to illustrate his own feelings of losing himself as he became a huge star and it permeates the whole movie.

What am I doing? Trying to add some real meaning to a movie where Rocky takes on a pro wrestler named "Thunderlips"? Where Apollo and Rocky share the most awkward beach hug in movie history? Where Rocky and Adrian have an argument so horribly written and poorly acted it single handedly murdered this films rating for acting?

Some may argue that Rocky IV was the best sequel. But I cannot put IV ahead of III when Rocky flies to Russia on Christmas Day, for no money by the way and Paulie complains that he's going to miss the Rose Bowl game?? That line has bothered me for years, the Rose Bowl is played on New Years day! Compare that with Rocky III, watch this whole thing without feeling envigorated and tempted to shadow box in a dingy gym and do wind sprints on the beach! It's just good, solid, entertainment.

Rant aside, here are the ratings.

Music: 5/5: The Rocky movies always had great music, "Eye of the Tiger" takes it to another level
Cinematography: 3: The movie is well shot enough, and abandons the sprawling look and deliberate pacing of the first two movies
Entertainment Value: 8/10: Few scenes in this movie aren't entertaining, and even when they are terrible, they are still entertaining!
Rewatchability Factor: 8/10: Of all the Rocky movies, this is the easiest to watch.
Acting: 5/10: Like I said earlier, the scene between Adrian and Rocky on the beach is just awful. "I'm afraid! You want to break me down! You want to hear me say it! I'm afraid! What are you putting me through Adrian" all said in Stallone's yell that sounds like a dog that overdosed on Benadryl yelping.
Great Scenes: 8/10: Thunderlips, the opening scene, the training montage, "Mick! Mick! Mick!!!", Mr. T. hitting on Adrian at Rocky's retirement ceremony, the final fight, the last scene, I could go on all day.

Total: 37/50

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No 48: Scream

"There's a formula, a very simple formula! Everybody's a suspect!"

Scream, by horror guru Wes Craven, was a breath of fresh air. For a long time, horror movies sucked. They were formulaic, bland and predictable, the dialog was wooden and the characters shallow.

Scream succeeds because the dialog is smooth and entertaining.  The characters don't live in a vacuum, they understand how typical horror movies work, and a running gag throughout the movie is characters unknowingly predict their actions by mocking what happens in horror films. 

Scream also works because the killer(s), isn't a mythical, immortal demon, who can't be killed. It's a member of a small town and as the violence occurs, so does a classic whodunit, with red herrings abound. 

The movie begins, with a scene that would make a "Greatest Opening Sequence" list if I ever made one. It's thrilling, its clever, its haunting, its brutal.

Scream spawned a lot of sequels, and a lot of bad spinoffs, just like any good horror movie. I still cringe when I hear the name, "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer".  Scream is on this list as much for its worth as a great movie as its monumental changing of horror movies. It effectively killed the standard typical slasher genre of movies for years, Scream pulled back the curtain, showed you how its all done, and still surprised you.

Here are the ratings.

Music: 4/5: The music is solid, driven by the classic "Red Right Hand", adds to the overall feel of the movie.
Cinematography: 3/5: Horror movies have a reputation for looking like shit, Scream doesn't.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: The first scene and the last are epic, very few scenes in this movie lag.
Rewatchability: 8/10: Its hard to get sick of a movie that is this entertaining. You can start watching at any point and it will suck you in till the end.
Acting: 7/10: Most horror movie casts are actors in their first roles, or, they act like it. Scream has established actors, and they elevate an already solid script.
Great Scenes: 8/10: Like I said, the opening scene is epic, the video store argument is comedy gold, and any scene with Deputy Dewey in it is memorable.
Total: 37/50

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No. 49: Carrie

"They are all going to laugh at you! They're all going to laugh at you"

Very rarely does a movie outperform the book it was based on. Brian De Palma took Stephen King's best selling novel and it turned it into one of the most haunting movies ever made. Carrie builds slowly and patiently, until the final twenty minutes, when the title character finally snaps in dramatic, memorable and violent fashion.

Carrie is your classic high school victim. She is extraordinarily shy, plain and is frequently picked on by other girls. Her mother is a religious fanatic who punishes Carrie for speaking out by locking her in a closet. As Carrie hits puberty she begins to realize she has telekinetic powers(She can move things with her mind). 

 The movie begins with an incident in the girls locker room that sets the stage for the rest of the movie. The girls involved are punished in a clever way by the P.E. teacher, she prohibits them from attending the senior prom. Their reactions, both positive and negative, set the stage for the final prom scene sequence.

Carrie's reaction after she is humiliated at the Prom is one of the great revenge sequences I've ever seen and leads to some iconic shots that still creep me out.

This is, in my opinion, one of the better horror films ever made. Great and clever filmmaking and a great story.

Here are the ratings:

Sound: 3/5: Nothing really special here, but nothing really bad either.
Cinematography: 4/5:  They did a real job of shooting the movie in a creepy, toeing the edge of insanity way. They actually made someone cutting up a carrot frightening.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy this movie. But when you feel like a good horror flick, Carrie unquestionably delivers.
Rewatchability: 7/10:  The old show MonsterVision used to wear this movie out, and I never got tired of it.
Acting: 8/10:  Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, John Travolta(In his first movie), the boyfriend, P.E. Teacher and the classic popular girl all do a great job. Piper Laurie is haunting and maniacal as Carrie's mother, and her demise is, in a word, poetic.
Great Scenes: 8/10: From the opening scene to the last, there are many scenes in Carrie that have been ripped off, copied, and referenced for the last forty years. This movie has been remade, a horrible sequel was made,but none has recaptured the power of the original.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My 50 Greatest Movies: No 50. Animal House

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life son"

With the help of a spreadsheet and an arbitrary rating system, I have calculated my 50 greatest movies of all time. Here, is number 50, the legendary. Animal House

Comedies are fickle things. Humor, or the idea of humor is always evolving. Luckily, there are movies like Animal House, a movie that stands the test of time with its perfect blend of tomfoolery, drunken debauchery and anarchy. 
If you haven't seen Animal House, its about the members of a Delta's, who do not study, attend class or act in accordance with fraternity regulations. The Dean of Faber University is determined to close down the fraternity with the help of a rival fraternity. Comedy ensues.

Thanks to the kind people at TBS and TNT, I've seen this movie many times. The characters Bluto, Pinto, Boone, D-Day and the great Flounder compile one of my favorite collection of characters in any movie. Sure, its raunchy, profane, the premise of some of the scenes, like an angel and a devil sitting on Pinto's shoulder while he contemplates what to do with a passed out girl on his bedroom floor wouldn't work if it weren't written so well. I raise a beer, or a fifth, and sway drunkenly to Louie Louie in honor of this great flick.

Here are its ratings:

Music: 3/5: Animal House contains a solid collection of classic songs, most memorably Louie Louie and Twist and Shout. But otherwise, nothing special.
Cinematography: 4/5: Don't know why I gave this a 4, this movie looks as grimy as the floor of the Delta House. But ratings don't lie.
Entertainment Value: 7/10: This movie would get a 9 or 10 if the ending didn't fall a little flat. Running gags from start to finish.
Rewatchability: 7/10: One of those movies you can start watching at virtually any point. I'm still not tired of this movie.
Acting: 7/10: John Belushi and the rest of the cast nail it. And Donald Sutherland perfectly plays the stoned, disengaged teacher.
Great Scenes: 8/10: Whether its Otter's speech to the fraternity board, Bluto peeping through a sorority window or Bluto's great speech about the German's bombing Pearl Harbor. There are too many great scenes to list.
Overall 36/50.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review: Broken Flowers

Broken Flowers was a movie made for Bill Murray. It's pacing and mood fits perfectly with his acting style. He's a minimalist, and this is a subtle movie. At times it is too subtle, shows too little, but nonetheless, it works.

Murray plays Don Johnston, a fairly wealthy man who is a serial bachelor. When we see him in his home, he sits, unmoving, in the dark. He is a depressing character who is only lulled out of his stupor by his neighbor. A hyperkinetic wannabe gumshoe who has five kids and three jobs. At his neighbors home is the only time we see an actual, genuine smile of happiness. 
Johnston received a letter from an unknown author, in a pink envelope, written on pink paper, informing him that he has a 19 year old son and that he has left home to find his father. Johnston's neighbor is fascinated by this and organizes a trip for Johnston to visit his old girlfriends and search for clues regarding the authors identity. Johnston resists, then agrees, a man who knows that he should do something to change his life, take some kind of action, but is terrified of it, in his understated way.

In a different movie, a movie not quite so effective, the movie would focus on the unfurling of the plot. We'd know more at the end of the film than at the beginning about the author of his letter and if he actually does have a son. There would be a climactic and emotional reunion with his son and the movie would be wrapped in a neat little bow. Instead, we focus on Murray's character choosing to be more than a witness to his own life, and how great an actor he really is.